Shhh

The first rule you learn in the sandbox is that you don’t engage the haters.  How did we forget such sage advice?  Haters will hate, people will talk, what can you do?  The principle behind it is that you can’t offer them an advantage.  As soon as you give them a reaction, which is the only thing they seek more than attention, they’ve already won.  For example, Renee Zellweger.  Jesus Christ, you are an Academy-Award winning actress.  It is nobody’s business what you do with your face.

Here’s the thing though, activism, open-mindedness, and defining yourself as a liberal generally means that you know when to play ball.  Being a caring individual demands it.  So often we want to stay quiet because it’s inconvenient, we don’t want to get in trouble or become an outsider.  In the face of any form of hatred, when someone else’s human rights are being compromised, it is our duty to speak up and to bear witness.

That is all the heavy stuff but in the more superficial realm of someone not liking you, well who really cares.  The best possible tactic you can take is to pay them no mind.  It’s always so easy to laugh behind a keyboard or with a group of girlfriends right?  Just remember that the person you’re ridiculing is someone’s sister, son, daughter or brother.  With all this in consideration, it takes a great deal of will-power not to involve yourself in these situations, especially when you’ve thought of something particularly witty to say.  Practicing radio silence is not easy.  But seriously, expend that energy somewhere else more productive and on someone more worthy.

Everyone is different.  Some provide a play-by-play of their daily life, others don’t.  But I guarantee that 99.9% of the time, both parties are doing just fine.

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Iconoclast

Remember when you were young and thought “when I grow up I will finally get to do whatever I want?”  We said it again and again, to get through awkward phases and strict curfews.  But you soon learn that being mature often means that you do things that you don’t particularly want to do because it makes other people happy.  But that’s fine, the rest of the time you set the agenda and you stay the course.

For the longest time I had a pixie cut.  When I was a child it was because Burma is a tropical country and it’s hot.  Then I moved to Canada and my mom wanted it to be neat and tidy.  In my adolescence it was because I swam.  During high school I just liked visiting the hairdresser and did not have the patience to grow it out.  Andrew teases me that my short hair kept him from being attracted to me initially.  I don’t doubt that there’s some truth to this because teenagers can be such tools, myself included.  I recall how everything meant something back then because we cared so much.  So in my youth there weren’t many actresses whom I could look up to or try to emulate.  Most of them were blond, hell in my school being blond meant that you were automatically pretty.  That is why I adored Winona Ryder and wanted to be exactly like her, minus the questionable taste in men.  She did date Matt Damon though before she started stealing lipsticks.  Sure she had her issues but she is talented and her bone structure is sublime.

I also liked the movie Reality Bites.  This film contributed to my fascination with love triangles for such a long time.  In real-life though these types of situations rarely produce good results.  People get hurt, aren’t particularly brave and more often than not you either settle or feel guilty.  I also liked the concept of working hard to make your dreams come true after college.  But again, I was suspicious of how it was portrayed.  Sure sure, it’s romantic to have fun with your friends and not sell out but damn, that life looked really hard and they kind of looked dirty.  Granted it was the early 90s, maybe now they’d all be wearing suspenders or something.  I didn’t actually want anything to do with this “cool” version either.

But the very best thing that this movie offers my generation is to heed us to take our time.  When everyone is telling you to just grow up already, remember to also enjoy yourself and keep sight of the prize.  Live and learn because you will get there.  Robert Pattinson once said in an interview that as soon as he started being known for his messy hair, he got a haircut.  Not all of us were meant to take the guided tour.

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Subtle

When we were recently leaving a furniture store my husband commented that its contents were for Meglomaniacs.  Having heard this term readily but not fully knowing its meaning, I asked for the definition.  Apparently when it comes to matters of aesthetics, Meglomaniacs are obsessed with wealth and markers of privilege.  They lack the soft touch when it comes to displaying their accomplishments.

Now, this got me to thinking about how important subtlety is in our everyday lives.  There is a certain respect I have for straight-shooters.  Their ability to be blunt is much more appealing to me than the ones who are too afraid to say what they mean.  But I feel that relationships are easier to maintain if one strikes a balance between brutal honesty and some finesse.

The problems arise when truth bombs, whether they are warranted or not, can compromise people’s confidence.  These statements are often not precise enough.  Improvements need to be made but there are workable components too right?  But I feel like there is nothing better than having these types of people in your life.  They offer valuable opportunities for self-reflection and keep your wits sharp.  You just have to learn to pick out the useful parts of their critiques and be grateful that they help you build a thick-skin.  You will always gain more from those who push you than the ones who have nothing bad to say.

The other case for the soft touch is that no one likes to define their tasks as being only a duty.  Nine out of ten times I’m sure that people will go out of their way to do something for you.  It’s when you assume that it’s a given that there is potential for conflict.  They just want to be asked and given the privilege of saying “yes.”  I’m pretty sure that everyone is deserving of at least that right?  Also, if someone is doing you a favor, I would try to make their life as easy as possible and to save the non-essentials for when you can do it yourself.

Simplicity is a principle that I return to again and again.  Whether it’s related to fashion or home decor I feel that there is a skill associated with minimalism and something so beautiful about how it leaves room for interpretation.  When it comes to relationships I also subscribe to the notion that the most logical reading is probably your answer.  How many of us have read over texts or emails looking for something that just isn’t there.  So often “simple” is associated with lack but I disagree.  You gain so much by filtering the noise, both in terms of what you give out and what you receive.

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Priorities

It is a truth of the universe that something always has to give.  To have a lot of anything, concessions need to be made in another aspect of your life.  Lets not be greedy shall we?  In my last year of undergrad I worked two jobs to pay the bills.  This is all the while taking extra courses to graduate after changing majors and finishing up my honors thesis.  The good news is that the grades didn’t slip but needless to say I ended up performing both employment positions poorly.

One of the jobs was in a restaurant and was so physically demanding that I vowed to get a career that allowed me to sit most of the time.  Service people work hard for their honest living.  The whole experience taught me that there is a danger to over-committing, even with a stubborn streak and will to get the pay stub.  In the end you do no one any favors with this “leaning in” and more often than not they are disappointed that you’re a flake.

I’m reflecting on all of this now because at this transition I’m trying to strategize for my career.  Luckily my husband is investing in my worth because he has the childcare worked out for me.  But I wondered, if my primary job was to take C to enrichment classes, prepare his meals, play and have fun, instead of finishing my PhD and looking for employment, would I feel differently?  Would I be less stressed with the juggle?  If we took back the cost of childcare and forgot about gaining a salary for me, would I be able to put that effort into raising my son?  As with anything I would want to do it well.

This is all hypothetical of course because I’m not sure if I am wired to take on motherhood as my sole career.  It’s not that I don’t love it, which of course I do, I’m just inspired by different types of fulfillment.  But I do believe that I might perform my motherly duties so much better if that was my only concern.  These types of considerations do serve reminders to maintain balance.  One always needs to set priorities and allocate energy to what matters most.  Don’t lose yourself now.

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On the road

The first lie that parents-to-be tell themselves is that nothing will change.  Let me give it to you straight, everything changes.  You don’t sleep the same, you don’t eat the same, hell, you probably don’t see the same because you’re so tired.  But they make you better.  You love in a boundless way that you never thought was possible.  I would do anything for my son.  If running in front of a moving vehicle meant that he had more time to reach his potential I would do it gladly because I’ve lived plenty.

One aspect of my former life that I am not willing to part with is my love of travel.  I very much take on Angelina Jolie’s philosophy when she says: “Anytime I feel lost, I pull out a map and stare.  I stare until I have reminded myself that life is a giant adventure, so much to do, to see.”  Being forever rooted sounds like an absolute nightmare.  My husband feels the same way and has consequently chosen a career that is conducive to these types of dreams.  So when we planned for a family these intentions remained.

There are things that you cannot plan for though, like timing and the temperament of the child.  At certain ages it is much easier to travel on long-haul flights.  Granted, they may cry at times when they’re an infant, but you don’t have to walk up and down the aisle for hours on end like you would with a toddler.  Our neighbour once said that our son is full of beans.  He absolutely loves people and draws so much energy from them.  While saying this, he is not the best at waiting and biding his time.  For these types of children, a 12 hour flight is not the best idea till they are a bit older and can rationalize why it’s taking so long.  Hell, I’m 32 and I still find 16 hour flights to be killer.  But, those places will wait for you so bide your time too.

We’ve taken a few vacations and his grandparents have graciously cared for him in our absence.  But moving to Massachusetts has once again changed everything.  We just bring him everywhere now, from the bank to the grocery store.  We do so many more activities in small-town America than we ever did in Toronto.  This has shown us that if we raise our expectations for his behavior, he will rise to the occasion.  Of course it’s a learning process but with every road trip where he doesn’t ask to get up or event that he leaves without a fit, it builds our confidence that he’ll be ready in time for more major trips.

My advice to parents who are thinking of taking on these endeavors is to always have snacks and do activities that work with your child’s personality.  We always agreed that he will join our adventures because it’s an integral part of building his cultural capital.  Seeing the different ways that people live out their everyday lives transforms your perspective on privilege and contentment.  The other day I said to Andrew that when we’re in LA this summer we should take C to Disneyland.  To this, C replied, “We should go to China.  I want to go to China.”  I think he’s game non?

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Don’t speak

I feel like my love affair with Paris would be complete if I never had to speak a word.  Is that even possible?  To love a place where the thought of speaking to anyone fills me with a slight dread?  Like always, the distant ones get me every time and Paris is no exception.  Her indifference and slight contempt for my lack of proficiency in the official language makes her all the more appealing.  Plus, I plan on slowly but surely building on my twenty plus years of public school French to be able to engage more the next time around.  Well, it’s kind of necessary if we’re planning on staying for a year.

Honestly though, there are plenty of people in Toronto for whom English is not their first language.  When they approach me on the street to ask for directions my first reaction is to be patient and understanding.  Having said this though, I do believe that it’s only respectful that anywhere you go you learn to say the please and thank yous in the native tongue.  In France I want to say so much more.  The key to learning any language is to not be shy and just try to communicate, however broken the sentences come out.  Well at least that’s what my Thai language tutor B taught me.  This man is the most joyful person I have ever met.  He used to use the hula hoop during lessons for “exercise” because he said that’s how you get rid of love handles.  My homework consisted of going to the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai to bargain.  I think I got a great deal on some teak placemats precisely because I accidentally mixed up numbers.  It also made the salesperson laugh so it provided a beautiful exchange.  When I attempt to do this in France however, I get mixed results.  There are those who truly appreciate the effort and others who just want to get on with it.  Whatever, you win some, you lose some.  I’m sure when I’m there for a couple of months and not a few days the experiences will be greater on the side of good.

But the one place I’ve been where I’ve never felt out of place is Buenos Aires.  Being in that city is like entering a freshly-made bed.  We could not speak a word of Spanish but every single person didn’t want to put us out and tried their best to help.  Imagine that, a society that did not want to inconvenience the tourist!  We stayed in a residential neighborhood away from the downtown hub so we ate at ten o’clock like everyone else, with both the senior citizens and newborn babies.  I was just starting to show in my pregnancy when we visited and people would politely offer me seats on the subway and ensure that I was comfortable.  The absolute beauty of this metropolitan city is not found just in the lovely boulevards, pastry shops on every corner, the art and culture being alive and well, but in their openness to difference.  As a racialized female you don’t get to feel this ease everywhere and Buenos Aires, I sure do look back at you fondly.  You are special.

Still, there is nowhere like Paris and I loved it when locals would ask me for directions on the street in French.  It was so thrilling to pass, well at least for those five seconds till I opened my mouth or the valiant attempt to understand registered on my face.  See, fashion does have power.

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Boring

Shonda Rhimes says that “you don’t make history by being liked.”  In truth the quote is from her show How to get away with murder, but it feels silly citing a series that has not even completed its first season, so I’m going to credit its writer/producer instead.  They say that the most influential people are often polarizing.  I guess that’s what they mean by the “it” factor because whether you agree with them or not, they are certainly not ones who wait to be introduced.

Some will argue now that there are plenty of individuals who have achieved great feats without getting a rise out of people.  You might ask, who could have possibly disliked Gandhi?  Um, I’m pretty sure that the British government in power at the time was not too fond of him.  But when his cause mattered too much and people were counting on him for leadership, I don’t see him as someone who shed too many tears over their slights.

I can’t believe I’m about to put one of the figures of non-violent political strategies and a teen-queen in the same post but here goes.  There is a purpose, I promise.  Kristen Stewart.  People seem to love or hate her.  It doesn’t really help that she was part of the breakdown of a marriage and cheated on one of the most genuine celebrities to emerge in the past few years.  He looked at her with such adoration.  I don’t really get it but then again I didn’t date him.  Maybe his “genuine” self-depreciation just became whiny.  I’m pretty sure after awhile you want to tell partners like that to get their shit together.  Her personal life aside though, my first impression of Stewart was that she was very pretty and a good actress.  Her face is clean, open and pleasant, features-wise, well when she doesn’t look upset.  Her method is subtle and it seems to come naturally.  But I can understand how she could rub people the wrong way.  Angst is probably the first word you associate with her energy but I don’t think she ever sold herself as one of those shiny, happy people.  Kristen has appeal and will probably have a long career because whatever you think of her, she is not boring.

So there you go, two individuals who excelled in their own spheres partly because they were true to themselves.  It’s not meant to be a comparison by any means, they are on two totally different planes.  But these instances provide valuable insight into the fact that not everyone is going to like you.  As soon as you let that desire go, while still being a kind and respectful person, you lose such a burden and do not run the risk of trying too hard.  Desperation becomes no one.  Do you like yourself?  Well, alright then.  Don’t ever want to be anyone but yourself.

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